A Poem on the Inhumanity of the Slave-Trade
London: G.G. J. and J. Robinson, Paternoster-Row, 1788.
London: G.G. J. and J. Robinson, Paternoster-Row, 1788. First edition. [with] Yearsley, Ann. Poems on Various Subjects. London: Printed for the Author, 1787. First edition.
Two volumes in one, bound to style in full speckled calf with gilt and morocco label to spine and boards. Marbled endpapers. Measuring 245 x 195mm (pages). Collating , 30; xl, 168: both volumes complete. Discreet ownership stamp of V. Zach to both titles. Small repair to fore-edge of title page of first, and small loss to fore-edge of title page of second (not affecting text). Internally fresh and unmarked. Two influential works by a groundbreaking female poet, A Poem on the Inhumanity of the Slave Trade, in particular, stands as part of Yearsley's activist legacy. Selling at auction only once in the past 43 years and reported at only 10 U.S. institutions according to ESTC, this early and important abolitionist poem is quite rare.
"Being convinced that your Ideas of Justice and Humanity are not confined to one Race of Men, I have endeavored to lead you to the Indian Coast," Ann Yearsley begins, urging her patron and her readers toward ethical and emotional sympathy with her cause. Hers was among the earliest and most notable of women's abolitionist literature, all the more attention-grabbing because of the author's identity. "Ann Yearsley introduced a different social reality into 18th century British literature: that of a laboring class woman who fought for artistic recognition and economic independence; who supported the French Revolution and the rights of British peasants, who allied with, fought on behalf of, and showed compassion for abused men and women around the world, with a message, always, to fight back. Thus she was the first writer in English not only to use gender, the rural proletarian class, and slavery as social categories in her writing, but, even more remarkably, she regarded them as issues of comparable priority" (Ferguson). Impoverished from birth, Yearsley witnessed her own mother die from starvation; and for much of her life, she herself suffered from penury and only barely managed to feed her family. Yet she did not withdraw from the world, or see her pains as solely individual but rather a larger network of communal inequity that should encourage empathy. Creating the protagonist Luco, who is captured, torn from his family and home, and enslaved, she tried to instill these feelings in others as well -- others who, like her neighbors in Bristol, witnessed the slave trade in their own ports. And she did not shy away from depicting physical in addition to emotional atrocities, as Luco's act of self-defense in striking a Christian colonial slave-driver results in prolonged torture and execution. "The poem insistently forces a choice from the reader: to oppose, sympathise, and react" (Ferguson).
Bound together with an early collection of Yearsley's poetry, which contains not only a subscriber's list that speaks to her reach, but also documentation on her feud and split with mentor Hannah More.
ESTC T96948 and T96949. (Item #4182)